UPDATED 14:50 EDT / JANUARY 18 2021


Google pushes back against key ‘header bidding’ allegations in antitrust lawsuit

Google LLC is pushing back against some of the key allegations in an antitrust lawsuit filed against it by 10 Republican state attorneys general who have accused the search giant of employing anticompetitive practices to boost its ad business.

The suit was filed late last year. It returned to the spotlight on Sunday after the New York Times published new details about the anticompetitive business practices the state attorneys general are accusing Google of having used.

Google pushed back against some of the suit’s claims in a detailed response that was also published Sunday. A key focus of both the suit and the search giant’s response is an ad industry practice known as header bidding.

Online publishers sell ad space to marketers via auction platforms where the marketer who places the highest offer wins. Header bidding is a practice wherein a publisher sends ad space to multiple auctions at once, which allows it to receive more offers than when using just a single auction and thereby fetch higher prices. The antitrust lawsuit charges that Google used anticompetitive practices to impede header bidding in an attempt to drive more of publishers and marketers’ business to its ad services.

One of the tools Google is accused of using to that end is a system called Open Bidding. The system provides an alternative to header bidding for publishers looking to receive more offers for their ad space. In the Sunday response to the suit, the search giant countered by saying that it had created Open Bidding to “address the drawbacks of header bidding.”

“Header bidding auctions take place within the browser, on your computer or mobile phone, so they require the device to use more data in order to work,” wrote Adam Cohen, Google’s director of economic policy. “This can lead to problems like webpages taking longer to load and device batteries draining faster. And the multilayered complexity of header bidding can lead to fraud and other problems.”

Open Bidding, in contrast, “runs within the ad server instead of on your device,” the executive continued. “This solves many of the problems associated with header bidding.”

The state attorneys general also charge that Google developed its AMP technology with features designed to make it more difficult for publishers to use header bidding. AMP is an open-source framework that enables web pages to load faster on mobile devices. 

The “claims about AMP and header bidding are just false,” Cohen wrote. “AMP supports a range of monetization options, including header bidding. Publishers are free to use both AMP and header bidding technologies together if they choose. The use of header bidding doesn’t factor into publisher search rankings.”

Google’s response also addresses another part of the lawsuit that argues the company takes a “very high” percentage fee from publishers’ ad revenue. The search giant argues that its ad tech fees are “lower than reported industry averages” with publishers keeping about 70% of revenues when using its advertising services. 

Photo: Unsplash

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